Massive shortage in projected care workforce flagged

Jolyon Attwooll

4/10/2022 3:13:24 PM

Workers required to care for Australia’s most vulnerable may fall short by more than 200,000 people by 2050, a new report has warned.

Old person in aged care home
Demand for the care and support workforce will be driven by older Australians.

An ageing population is likely to drive huge care workforce shortages by 2050 under projections recently published in a National Skills Commission (NSC) report.
The research was undertaken under the Coalition Government and finalised last year, but only released this week, The Guardian reports.
The analysis also covers likely gaps in the mental health care workforce.
Baseline projections contained within the Care Workforce Labour Market Study suggest that around 531,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) care and support workers will be required by 2049–50.
The researchers warn that this demand will be ‘significantly outpacing workforce supply’ at current rates of growth, which it projects to increase to 320,200 by the same time.
If the predicted trajectory proves correct, it is likely to have profound implications for primary care.
Under the scenario, there would be a 211,400 shortfall of FTE workers – a gap that could be even worse under projections using a ‘low productivity sensitivity’, which calculate the FTE requirements may rise to 650,700 workers by 2050.
The analysis was compiled last year, prior to the election of a new Federal Government that has repeatedly reiterated a commitment to ‘fix the aged care crisis’.
The report also notes the shortage of GPs, highlighting their inclusion on the NSC’s Skills Priority List.
A Deloitte report on the GP workforce published in May this year predicted a shortfall of 11,392 FTE GPs by 2032, the equivalent of 27.9% of the workforce.
Much of the increase in aged care demand will be driven by the ‘baby boomer generation’ from around 2030, the authors of the NSC report suggest.
‘Future demand for the care and support workforce will be predominately driven by the growing number of Australians requiring care and support services, particularly amongst older Australians,’ they stated.
‘While the rollout and growth of the NDIS in recent years has driven much of the contemporary growth across the sectors, residential aged care is expected to be the key driver of future workforce demand.’
The report also reiterates the pressures on mental health care around the country, citing a 2020 Productivity Commission report that estimated around one million people with mental illness were receiving no clinical care each year.
The authors say that compiling accurate information to plan for the mental health workforce is difficult.
‘As has been outlined in this study, there are significant challenges in establishing reliable starting point estimates for demand and supply for the mental health workforce,’ they wrote.
‘This significantly constrains the utility of applying forecasting approaches given the data inputs are unreliable, incomplete, or unavailable.’
It does warn, however, of a so-called ‘missing middle’ gap in mental health treatment that could be affecting several hundred thousand Australians each year.
These are patients whose symptoms are deemed ‘too complex for treatment by a GP and the limited number of government-subsidised individual sessions with a psychologist … but whose severity does not reach the threshold for specialised mental health services provided by states and territories’.
The report again cites previous research by the Productivity Commission, suggesting this gap is caused by a lack of community-based mental health services.
According to the latest Health of the Nation report released by the RACGP, mental health consultations remain the most prevalent types of presentation reported by GPs across the country.
Around 38% of appointments include a mental health element, the latest report suggests, with psychological issues the most common reason for patient presentations across the past six years.
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